Mechanical forces generated by gravity, weightbearing, and muscle contraction play a key role in the genesis and maintenance of skeletal structure. The molecular mechanisms that mediate changes in osteoblast activity in response to altered patterns of skeletal loading are not known, and a better understanding of these processes may be essential for developing effective treatment strategies to prevent disuse osteoporosis. We have elucidated specific integrin/ECM (extracellular matrix) interactions that are required for osteoblast differentiation and survival and have developed a useful loading system to further explore the molecular basis of mechano-sensitivity of osteoblasts. The long term goal of our collaborative research is to understand how the ECM and cell adhesion proteins and integrins interaction to mediate the response of osteoblasts and their progenitors to mechanical loading. We suggest that integrin/ECM interactions are crucial for basic cellular processes, including differentiation and survival, as well as to participate in detecting and mediating cellular responses to mechanical stimuli.